Arafat offers Cabinet posts to Hamas

Monday, June 3, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Yasser Arafat has offered Cabinet posts to Hamas and other militant groups involved in suicide attacks against Israelis as part of a government reshuffle he plans to announce in coming days, Palestinians said Sunday.

While three other radical groups have turned down the Palestinian leader's offer, saying they don't want to belong to a government that's willing to negotiate with Israel, Hamas is still weighing the proposal, the group said.

It would mark the first time in his eight years as chairman of the Palestinian Authority that Arafat formally brought Hamas into government -- a move likely to be strongly opposed by Israel and the United States, which both regard Hamas as a terrorist group. In Israel, a Hamas-Arafat alliance would be interpreted as an indication that the Palestinians are determined to continue the violent conflict.

From Arafat's perspective, having radical groups inside the government could make them easier to control. It was not clear whether Arafat was making compliance with his call for an end to suicide attacks a condition of Hamas entering the government.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops searched house to house for suspected militants for a third day in Nablus, the largest West Bank city. More than 60 suspects have been arrested in the roundup in the city proper and in the city's Balata refugee camp, the latest of Israel's frequent incursions into the West Bank.

On Sunday, troops uncovered a large weapons workshop in the house of Mahmoud Titi, a militant leader killed by Israeli tank fire there on May 22, the army said. The workshop contained hundreds of pipe bombs, anti-tank missiles and chemicals for making bombs, the army said, adding that the workshop was blown up in a controlled explosion.

The army also said a Palestinian man disguised as a woman was arrested during the sweep in Balata.

Israeli troops have shown a pattern in recent weeks of entering West Bank cities or villages, usually for short periods to make arrests of suspected militants, and then withdrawing. But Nablus was a larger operation with dozens of armored vehicles involved.

Balata refugee camp is a stronghold of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia that has carried out many deadly attacks, and which is linked to Arafat's Fatah movement.

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